Do the new style of car keys actually prevent theft?

We just bought a new car, and it came with the new style of smart keys.
I gotta say, I hate the things. In addition to being “smart” it includes the remote in the key head, which is now the size of an old car remote. No more taking only the key, and having a small key ring.

As I was being warned “Don’t lose that key, it will cost you $100+ to replace,” I started wondering if they are really just a way for the car dealers/manufacturers to make more money. Instead of going to the local hardware store, and getting a new set of keys for $5 each, I now have to go to the dealer and pay $100+ each.

But does have the new keys lowered the theft rate? If they did, I would expect to see a discount on my car insurance because of them, I get a discount for having airbags and a car alarm. Yet I see no “Smart Key” discount listed.

So, money grab or theft prevention?

It’s the chip in the key fob or head that allows the ignition to be started. Otherwise your key is only good for locking the door and the glovebox for the average person.

Sophisticated criminals know how to overide the protection of a smart key. Just like hackers can easily get into your email or other online accounts.

ETA: car theft is not a huge % of annual auto insurance claims. Accidents and bodily injury are. So minimally reducing the theft of the car, would have a neglible impact on your insurance premium.

There’s no discount for having the “smart key” because it isn’t an option-- either a particular model does or doesn’t have one so it’s already calculated into the rates you get for your specific car.

And, yes, chip keys have had an enormous impact on theft rates. When cars really started to get them back in the 90’s, there was something like 75-90% difference found between the non-chip and chip key models. Even today if you look at “most stolen” statistics, a disproportionate number of these are still 90’s vintage pre-chip key cars. For example the '94 Accord was the last non-chip key year and has been in the top 3 most stolen cars every year since 2000 (it’s #1 again for 2011, which is pretty impressive for a 17 year old car that’s worth less than two grand used!).

Just over $100? I’d say you’d be lucky. A key lost for a rental car* recently was $300 (Dodge Charger IIRC). Also, can these work after a dip in the pool?

I recall that something happened around 1995 that made subsequent cars harder or less lucrative to steal. The most stolen cars are usually so because they are common and thus their parts command good prices on the market.

*WTF is up with rental car companies giving you two keys, and then connecting them with an unbreakable chain? I think the above car had only one, though.

A BIG pet peave of mine. I always put my Wife and I on as drivers. It would be nice if we could both have a key. And the damn things are so big typicaly with a big key fob thing it’s HUGE in my pocket.

I complained once, and was told it would be to hard to keep track of.

Does the chip actually stop the car from being started, or just being started with a key? If I could hot wire an older, pre-chip car, would I be able to do it on a newer car, or would the lack of a chip prevent that.

Airbags and a car alarm (in my case, it’s the panic button on the remote, and yes, the insurance agent knows that) are also standard, not an option, and yet a discount gets applied for those.

The chip basically is a coded number; the computer that runs your car, does fuel injection, ABS, etc - now will not run without the right code, verfied by the presensce of the key. So just shorting the starter switch (if you still have one) will not work.

There was a company selling remote car starters (to start and warm up the car from indoors, for those of you in warm climates… :smiley: ) . For their product to work with newer chip keys, you actually had to insert a spare key inside the module under the hood.

There was an article about theives in England stealing Beckham’s BMW X5 quite a few years ago by running Wifi or Bluetooth software to simulate the key. I don’t know, maybe they lurked nearby to capture his key when he left, maybe there was a program to test a series of numbers.

OTOH, my curent BMW is an’08 and the key must be put into a slot. Toyota however, I just need the key in my pocket to opeate the vehicle (but I can’t lock the Toyota key inside the car, accidentally or on purpose. WIth my BMW, I can lock the spare key inside.

When my Audi (02 year) needed a new key (The original cracked after a year of use), basically they collected all the keys and gave the car a complete new program and had to reprogram all the keys at the same time. They could not just add a key, they said - they had to specially reprogram the whole car and keys.

IIRC, it was in the sad remake of “Gone in 60 Seconds” they had to find a crooked dealer to create a key for the Mercedes based on serial numbers or something. The Audi system means this would not work; the dealer would have to hve the car too, and even then if the owner did not bring in the other key, that key would no longer work.

My car, a 2002 Volkswagen, has a very intermittent fault involving the immobilizer. I start the car, it starts normally, and then within a few seconds it simply turns off, and the key/immobilizer light on the dashboard comes on. I’m supposing that is exactly what would happen if the car was hot wired; started with a cut, but not coded, key; or the ignition/steering column was broken into. (When this happens, I restart the car several times, and eventually the immobilizer works and the engine stays running.)

Supposedly (no cite), the inclusion of an immobilizer as standard equipment has created in an increase in carjacking. I suppose that’s fine for confrontational car thieves. Around here the non-violent types will cruise residential neighborhoods on cold mornings and steal “puffers,” cars which are left running with no attendant. Police patrols and other efforts have cut down on the number of “puffer” car thefts, though.

A friend of mine needed a car with a towbar for the weekend, and asked to borrow a co-worker’s. He was shown where the car was parked that morning, then at the end of the day was given the smartkey. He located the car and drove away, and used it all weekend.

On Monday when he returned the car and handed the keys back to his work colleague, the guy asked why he decided not to take it? He saw that his car was still in the car park all weekend.

Turns out my friend had forgotten exactly what the car looked like, and had gotten into the wrong one. But because this wrong car had the spare key inside the car, it was permanently unlocked and able to be driven at any time.

Once they realised what had happened, they were a) curious why the actual owner didn’t notice his car had been missing all weekend, and b) who is so stupid as to leave a smartkey inside a car all the time, and how that renders the whole idea of smartkeys useless.

Nitpick - hackers cannot easily get into your online accounts if you take a few sensible precautions. It isn’t very hard to have a secure online account.

The 2006 car I just bought had only one key. So being old fasioned, I wanted a 2nd key. Big, fat key fob with lots of buttons.

Cost me $216.00.

I can’t say this is true for all chipped cars, but on the cars I worked on the start sequence goes like this:

  1. Insert key into ignition, antenna ring read transponder chip. Info is sent to Central Electronic Unit. Assuming chip is recognized then
  2. CEM powers up Engine Control Module then
  3. CEM and ECM trade passwords
    “The ducks walks at midnight”
    “It might rain on Tuesday”
    Assuming that each unit recognizes the other’s password then the start is allowed to commence / continue.
    On some of the newer models after step 3 both the CEM and ECU check the serial number of the Brake Control Module (ABS). The serial # has to match or no start.
    So good luck hot wiring this sucker.

Rural Alberta? A lot of people don’t bother to lock anything, but it depends on the town.

Your $300 dollar estimate is closer to reality than the $100. Also, a word to the wise, don’t forget to take them out of your pant pocket before washing your pants. Very expensive lesson.

It was actually (…checks) $298.55. It was a friend who lost it (not “a friend”), and is probably somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico. So even if found, the salt water can’t be good for it.

<<… I started wondering if they are really just a way for the car dealers/manufacturers to make more money. …>>

Bien sûr!

Of course the car dealers / manufacturers have this in mind.

A 2004 Chevrolet Venture is so difficult just to replace the battery, it will cost you around $80.00 in labor


Everything has to be somewhere. Cars are smaller, more complex, and have larger engines than before.
This does not make for ease of maintenance.
I have never heard of a designer who set out to make something hard to service on purpose. it is counterproductive.
However design involves compromise. Realistically a battery might get changed once under warranty and then maybe 4 more times during the life of the car.
Compare that to how often the oil gets changed. You want the oil change to be easy, the battery doesn’t get changed nearly as often.

I’m too lazy to search, but a lab at MIT (I think) showed that hacking car codes was feasable with minimal equipment. They warned against near future hacking problems in car systems not at all geared for anti piracy.
The most interesting part being that all car functions being linked, any intrusion could have dramatic consequences for the occupants.

Check at
-Taking Control of Cars From Afar

Researchers show they can hack into cars wirelessly.

Monday, March 14, 2011 Technology review by MIT

Your post sounds like someone telling their neighbor, who has two computers on a hard wired home network, and is not connected to the Internet that he is running a huge risk by not having anti-virus running on both machines.